Ready or not, the presidential race for 2016 is well under way. While a pool of GOP candidates continues to grow, left-wing candidates like Bernie Sanders are gaining significant traction against Democratic front runner Hilary Clinton. The 2016 elections will be unique, but not solely because of the vibrant figures declaring candidacy. Domestic and international challenges over the past few years have left voters – particularly the millennial generation – demanding a new kind of election.
A recent article in The Hill reported, “Students and young people generally are becoming increasingly engaged politically…bringing their hopes and dreams for themselves and for America to the center of the national political arena.” The high level of engagement this reporter describes has already made significant changes to popular election rhetoric. For example, Sanders, a Democratic Senator from Vermont, has already been able to gain major momentum from voters with his serious plans to address income inequality. The popularity of his progressive economic platform is not an accident, however. Millennials have been pushing discussions around the opportunity gap in America for several years, building a common language that can be widely used in the public square. As a result, candidates across the field have been pushed to not only address income inequality in their campaigns, but to address a host of newly visible topics that millennials hold in high regard.
The millennial agenda, at its core, prizes the interconnectedness of social causes and the inclusion of all people. These principles have been highlighted in movements such as Occupy Wall Street in 2011. An editorial in The Atlantic described Occupy as a “grassroots movement composed of fast-food workers and Walmart employees, convenience-store clerks, and adjunct teachers.” The same piece goes on to attribute the “rebirth of the U.S. labor movement” with energy resulting from Occupy. In this example and others, millennials have drawn significant attention to how power and politics interact. From corporate influence on Capitol Hill, to income justice issues in cities across the US, their agenda seeks to make sure everyone has a voice in our democracy.
With this enthusiasm at hand, it’s important that millennials take time to set priorities for the 2016 elections. These priorities should not only reflect values that will strengthen our society, but capitalize on the unique perspective that younger generations bring. The following are four suggestions for the start of this campaign season:
1) A major goal for 2016 should be to keep policy issues at the center. In past election seasons, debate and progress has been seriously co-opted by negative campaign ads and personal digs among candidates. This time around, some candidates have already vowed to run clean campaigns. We can do our best not only to support these promises, but to hold news outlets and other platforms to the same standard.
2) Millennials have made significant progress in drawing attention to gender disparities in positions of power – highlighted in political offices. With female presidential candidates on either side of the aisle, millennials should commit to standing against sexism in this next election. By safeguarding gender-friendly dialogue and critically examining what within our culture holds women back, we can take a step forward as a county.
3) It’s important that millennials continue ask where campaign money is coming from. The desire for a truly representational democracy can easily be warped by big spending on behalf of corporations, and wealthy individuals. It is possible to turn this trend by holding candidates to a standard of transparency.
4) An additional point of importance is the question of who candidates are talking to. Historically, candidates have looked to appeal to the middle class who represent a majority of voters. This emphasis leaves out the low-income and working poor. Millennials understand that strengthening society requires reaching out to a diverse spectrum of economic classes. Asking candidates how they will approach poverty issues will continue to change and shape 2016 for the better.
While these goals are not exhaustive, they are a good place to start. In the past, when millennials have acted in unison, and exercised their political voice, they have truly shaped the outcome of elections. In 2016, a new civic rhetoric is available that values uphold the concerns of women, the working-class, and the inherent dignity of all human beings. Now it's our job to put it to use.
-Jenny Hyde is a recent alumna of Gordon College, where she received her degree in International Affairs. She is currently living and working in Washington, D.C.